Through Historic Scotland, the Scottish ministers work closely with local authorities to protect and enhance our country’s historic environment. That work is carried out through a wide range of legislation, policy and guidance. The importance of historic buildings, individually or collectively, can be recognised by Historic Scotland through the listing process and by local authority designation of conservation areas. When change is proposed, the planning system ensures that the desirability of protecting a historic building’s particular character is a key part of the wider consideration of an application. Regulations are in place within the planning system to ensure that the Scottish ministers, through Historic Scotland, are involved at the appropriate stages in the oversight or handling of certain types of case.
The minister may be aware of the growing concerns about the number of listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas in my constituency that have fallen into disrepair. Indeed, there has been an e-mail campaign directed to her MSP address on the subject of St Mary’s Street, in Dumfries. The problem is that the owners often do not live locally and it is sometimes difficult to trace them or they do not respond to communication. Can the minister advise me of any examples of intervention to prevent the loss of built heritage that could be copied as examples of good practice? Will she also comment on the request for her to call in the planning application regarding St Mary’s Street?
The member raises a number of issues. In my first answer, I said that protecting the character of the historic built environment is a key part of the wider consideration of an application—it is not the only consideration, but it is a key one. In a number of cases, including that of the St Mary’s Street building to which the member refers, Historic Scotland has taken a view on whether account of that has been taken in that wider consideration.
As for good examples of communicating with absentee landlords or owners, I am more than happy to identify good practice and share it with the member if that would be helpful. One of the aims of the Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, which was recently passed by the Parliament, was to provide mechanisms whereby duties could be placed on those who do not want to improve or take care of the historic environment for which they have responsibility. The bill gives more powers to local authorities, rather than Historic Scotland, to intervene to ensure the financing of improvements, although in some instances it gives Historic Scotland powers of easier intervention that allow it to go into certain properties to ensure, for example, that repairs are made. The member might want to look at that piece of legislation, which we have just passed. I am also more than happy to identify examples of good practice to pass on to her.
When I came into the Parliament some eight years ago, I asked the then minister about the vexed question of Historic Scotland’s failure to come to any agreement with the owner of Castle Tioram on the castle’s future. The Minister for Culture and External Affairs has given me encouraging noises over the past months. Will she take the opportunity, which will certainly be my last at culture questions, to update us on what is happening with the castle or will we have to wait another eight years before Historic Scotland finally sees sense on the matter?
I am conscious that the former Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution, Michael Russell, is sitting beside me. I have been in post for somewhat over a year now, and I can inform Ted Brocklebank that no new application has been submitted for Castle Tioram. However, active discussions are taking place with the owner, and Historic Scotland is working closely with him and his team to establish a new way forward to serve the castle’s best interests.
Does the minister believe that the regeneration of Portsoy harbour in my constituency through the provision of funding under the Historic Scotland conservation area regeneration scheme—CARS—will be a real boost to local tourism, will support the Portsoy traditional boat festival and will serve as an excellent example for other parts of Scotland?
Indeed I do. Since 2007, £16 million has been awarded to 34 locally run schemes. I understand that, in Portsoy, the £500,000 that has just been announced under round 4 of CARS is funding work surrounding the quay and is aimed at providing economic drivers and enhancing tourism. There are also wider social benefits, such as youth development skills that will be acquired through the repair of facilities that are to be used by local boat builders in the provision of after-school opportunities.
The funding is about not only regeneration and conservation but services that can have wider benefits for communities. I am delighted to agree with Stewart Stevenson on that point.